Posts Tagged ‘Maria Muldaur’

‘Why’

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

We pick up on our project of Journalism 101 with “why,” the penultimate of the six basic questions any reporter keeps in his or her figurative pocket. Those six are, of course, who, what, where, when, why and how.

And when we sort the 72,800-some tracks currently in the RealPlayer, well, the first thing we note is that we have been relatively diligent here in working on rebuilding the stacks. After last autumn’s external drive crash, we had a bit fewer than 60,000 mp3s on the digital stacks. We’ve made progress, but there is still much work to do: We still have about four years’ worth of CD purchases to restore to the stacks, and after that, there will be much work to get tags correct.

But I digress.

When we sort those 72,800-some tracks for the word “why,” we are presented with 289 tracks. Interestingly, most of them are useful to us. We do lose some, like the entire 1993 album by the Cranberries, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (And we pause a moment to remember the recently departed Dolores Riordan.) We also lose full albums by blueswoman Rory Block (Lovin’ Whyskey, 2009) and by the Button Down Brass Featuring The Funky Trumpet Of Ray Davies (Why Can’t We All Get Together, 1972­), as well as most of the tracks from an album by Little Big Town (The Reason Why, 2010).

But that leaves more than 250 tracks, a trove of riches that we can’t entirely grasp. So we’re going to let the RealPlayer do the work. We’ll sort the tracks by running time, set the cursor in the middle, and go random. The only things we’ll skip are those that are not currently available on YouTube.

And we start with “Why, Oh Why” from Little Big Town, one of the two tracks we can use from the group’s 2010 album. Released as a digital single, it showcases very well the tight harmonies and power pop/country backing that’s made the foursome so successful. The album debuted in 2010 at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and eventually topped the magazine’s country chart. I’m of two minds about Little Big Town; I have four of their albums in the stacks – their earlier work, generally – and I don’t mind when it shows up randomly. But a steady diet of it tends to bore me. It seems to be music custom-made for the playlist era.

Then we get a track from Maria Muldaur, a singer whose work has always attracted me but whom I’ve never really called a favorite, if that makes any sense. I’ve enjoyed her intermittently and gathered a fair number of her LPs and CDs, from her self-titled 1973 debut through 2011’s Steady Love, which is where “Why Are People Like That” shows up. It’s a bluesy tune written by Bobby Charles and first recorded by Muddy Waters for his 1975 Woodstock album. Muldaur’s version showcases her strengths as an interpreter even as one hears a little raggedness around the edges of her vocals (the effects of aging, I would guess).

And we fall into a dose of 1958 rockabilly: “Why Did You Leave Me” by Lou Josie & The Spinners. Josie, according to Discogs, was an Ohio-born performer who – as well as heading up those particular Spinners – was a member of B. Bumble & The Stingers (whose name I first heard in Reunion’s 1974 hit “Life Is A Rock [But The Radio Rolled Me]”). The website Black Cat Rockabilly has an extensive piece about Josie, noting his many songwriting credits for other, better-known, performers. Among those, he received partial credit for the Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” and, on his own, wrote “Midnight Confessions,” which the Grass Roots took to No. 5. “Why Did You Leave Me” came my way through the massive rockabilly/country collection That’ll Flat Git It.

Having messed up my randomness through re-sorting the useful files, I’ll choose the last of our four stops today: “Don’t Know Why” by the Rutles, selected to mark – a little late, but never mind – the fortieth anniversary of the spring 1978 televising of All You Need Is Cash, which introduced the U.S. to the Prefab Four. It was all a lark, of course, an affectionate tweaking of the Beatles, with incredibly accurate sound-alike songs and performances. “Don’t Know Why,” with its delightful late-period Lennonisms (and an overt lyrical reference to “Norwegian Wood”), came from the 1996 release Archaeology.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Whenever a pop culture icon reaches an age of, oh, fifty or greater that ends with a zero, the mass media finds itself cluttered for a few days with rethought biographies, appreciations, and assessments of said icon’s influence on our popular culture. The zero rule has held true again in the past few weeks regarding Bob Dylan, who turns seventy today: I’ve seen numerous magazine pieces and book reviews in the past weeks re-examining the life, music and impact of the Bard of Hibbing, and I expect that if I watch one of the national newscasts tonight – I generally watch CBS – I’ll see a piece that looks at all of those things and adds to it a commentary on the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

(I should note that there was not long ago a similar appreciation and assessment of a pop culture icon for a birthday that did not end in zero: In June of 2006, Paul McCartney was, quite appropriately, thus feted and assessed as he turned sixty-four.)

I’ve written and presented at this blog over the years a fair amount of my own assessments and appreciations of Mr. Dylan’s work. I think it’s almost enough to say this morning that Bob Dylan’s music is one of the foundations on which my own life in music comfortably rests. He wasn’t the first artist whose music captivated me – those honors, such as they might be, go to Al Hirt, John Barry and the Beatles, with Dylan coming along shortly thereafter. But, as he did for the culture at large, it was Dylan who taught me that the music I listened to – and the music I wrote – could be lyrically and topically challenging.

(That lyrical liberation brought with it its own burden, one that has been hefted by creative people around the world, many of them better at their crafts than I: It’s all too easy for writers to lapse into Dylanese while crafting lyrics, with the resulting product coming off more as pale imitation than influenced creation. That can happen, of course, with any artist and in the context of any art-form. I’ve discarded many a lyric because it comes off as faux Dylan or stale Springsteen, and I assume – as an example – that many screen writers have reread their works in progress and mourned the presence of limp Scorsese.)

So, rather than assess, analyze or rehash Bob Dylan’s career and influence here this morning, I thought I’d just stack up a set of six cover versions of his work that I enjoy or admire. My favorite among the cover versions of Dylan’s tunes is not listed among them; I’ve written before about Eric Clapton’s bluesy reconstruction of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” during the 1992 celebration of Dylan’s career. But the cover versions that follow rank high on my list.

The album Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan was released by the House of Blues in 1999, pairing a selection of twelve Dylan tunes with performers steeped in the blues, rock or R&B traditions. Among the performers and tunes paired on Tangled Up In Blues were Taj Mahal with “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” Leon Russell with “Watching the River Flow,” Mavis Staples with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and R.L. Burnside with “Everything Is Broken.” But one of my favorite tracks on the CD is “Ballad of a Thin Man” as interpreted by James Solberg. Solberg, whose band spent much of the 1990s backing bluesman Luther Allison, delivers a biting performance, instrumentally and vocally, of Dylan’s long-ago shredding – if legend is to be believed – of a New York Times reporter.

Covers of “Blowin’ In The Wind” are not scarce, of course. I’m not going to even try to estimate how many there might have been, but four of them reached the Billboard Hot 100 (or bubbled under): Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963, Stan Getz in 1964, Stevie Wonder in 1966 and the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969. The version that soul performer O.V. Wright released in early 1970 wound up as the B-Side to a tune titled “Love The Way You Love,” which made neither the Billboard Hot 100 nor the magazine’s R&B Top 40. I found Wright’s version of the Dylan tune on a 2010 collection on the Ace label titled How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan.

Maria Muldaur has moved in and out of public view for years, often performing in a folk-roots vein since growing up – according to All-Music Guide – in New York’s Greenwich Village and then joining, in the mid-1960s, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Likely best-known for her 1974 hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” she’s released in recent years a series of bluesy, rootsy albums, one of which was the 2006 CD Heart Of Mine (Love Songs Of Bob Dylan). That’s where I found her very good cover of “Buckets of Rain” from Dylan’s 1975 classic album Blood on the Tracks.

Of all of the folks who’ve covered a Dylan tune, one of the least likely names I’ve come across is that of Julie London, the late 1950s and early 1960s chanteuse. Described by AMG as a “sultry, smoky-voiced master of understatement,” London shone on titles like “Cry Me A River,” “September In The Rain” and “Black Coffee.” That’s why her turn on “Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo)” seems at first thought to be a mismatch and at second thought to be surreal. But the understatement that AMG cites makes the tune work for London. At least it works for me. The track comes from London’s 1969 album Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, on which she also takes on – among other things – the title tune (which was a No. 4 hit for the Ohio Express; London’s version, released in 1968, bubbled under at No. 125) and the venerable “Louie Louie.”

Odd pairings are, it seems, easy to find when one is digging into covers of Bob Dylan tunes. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” remains one of Dylan’s most cryptic and most bitter songs, a seeming stream-of-consciousness epic that timed out at 7:33 on his 1965 masterpiece, Bringing It All Back Home. So seeing the tune listed with a running time of 3:49 on an album by R&B master and one-time gospel prodigy Billy Preston can bring all sorts of cognitive dissonance to the fore. But through either the song’s durability or Preston’s skill and talent, the cover version works (and I’d vote for a combination of the attributes of the song and the singer). The track comes from Preston’s 1973 album, Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music.

And I’ve saved one of my personal favorites for the last spot. During the first iteration of this blog, I wrote about the three albums released in the 1960s by Bobby Jameson. (Those posts have now been archived and are available here.) The first Jameson album I posted was 1969’s Working!, and after I wrote about it, Bobby got in touch with me. During those first few months of our friendship, he offered me a track from those 1969 sessions that had been pulled from the album and had never been widely heard. Even after a few years, I find Bobby’s take on Dylan’s “To Ramona” to be world-weary, almost desolate and utterly lovely: